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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Smart Car Earns Top Crash Scores

Tiny Car Receives Highest Rating in Front- and Side-Impact Testing

In crash tests conducted by the insurance industry, the 2008 Smart fortwo micro car, the smallest car for sale in the U.S. market, earned the industry's top scores. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, helping address some concerns that consumers may be more vulnerable in the tiny two-seater, gave the 8-foot, 8-inch vehicle the highest rating of good in front-end and side-impact testing.

The recently released tests show how well vehicles compared with others of similar size and weight. The institute pointed out that the front-end test scores cannot be compared across weight classes; in other words, a small car that earns a good rating isn't considered safer than a large car that did not earn the highest rating.

Institute's president Adrian Lund said a small car might be more sensible in congested urban areas where serious, high-speed crashes are less likely. The institute conducted the crash tests to help inform consumers who want a small car that can offer them good protection.

"All things being equal in safety, bigger and heavier is always better,” Lund said. “But among the smallest cars, the engineers of the Smart did their homework and designed a high level of safety into a very small package."

The institute's frontal crash test replicates a 40-mile per hour crash with a similar vehicle. The side crash demonstrates what would happen if the vehicle was struck on the side by a sport utility vehicle at 31 mph.

The fortwo received the second-highest rating of acceptable in a test that assessed the vehicle's protection in rear crashes.

As consumers deal with rising fuel prices, Smart, a division of Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz brand, has arrived in U.S. showrooms this year. The car has a base price of more than $12,000 with destination charges included, and a fully loaded Smart passion convertible is more than $17,000. Customers are putting down $99 to reserve a car—and the manufacturer has received more than 30,000 reservations for the vehicle.

The car, which had sold 6,159 units through May 1, gets 33 miles per gallon in the city and 41 mpg on the highway. The fortwo is more than 3 feet shorter and almost 700 pounds lighter than a Mini Cooper.

Smart received the top score of five stars in side testing in earlier crash tests conducted by the government, but the driver door unlatched during the test and opened. Although it did not impact the vehicle's test score, government regulators revealed the incident required them to note a safety concern for the vehicle, which will appear on window stickers at dealerships.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the concern was warranted because the unlatching of the door could increase the possibility of a driver or passenger being ejected from the vehicle. The driver door also became unlatched when the IIHS conducted its side test. However, the injury measurements on the test dummy were low and the opening didn't affect the dummy's movement, the institute said.

Smart, a 1,800-pound car, has a steel safety cage and four standard air bags, including two each in front and on the sides to protect the head and abdomen. It also comes with standard electronic stability control, which was invented to stop vehicles from swerving off the road.

"America has never seen a car this size before and their first question usually isn't about (fuel) economy, it's about safety," said the president of Smart USA, Dave Schembri. "And that's why we think these results are so very important."

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